What Is a Video Capture Device?

What Is a Video Capture Device

Hundreds of laptops come with webcams. However, most webcams do not produce high-quality video. This can be a bit annoying if you are into live streaming on Twitch or YouTube.

If you are a streamer, you may be wondering if there is a way to record high-quality live streams. Perhaps you have a professional camera, and you want to use it for streams.

Fortunately, there is a way to do this.

This article will discuss video capture devices and how they can help you produce professional-looking live streams.

We will cover what a video capture device is and how to choose one. This guide will also explain how to use the device.

Let’s get started.

A Video Capture Device

A video capture device allows you to use an external camera with your computer to replace the webcam.

Many live streamers use video capture devices.

Most modern laptops have webcams. With the webcams, you can record a live broadcast. Since the webcam is already part of the computer, the computer and any software you use will immediately recognize the webcam.

Furthermore, there is a chip that is built-in to the computer. This chip will convert the analog visual data of the webcam into digital data. This process allows your computer to share the webcam feed with the rest of the world.

However, many computers will not allow you to connect an external device to replace the webcam feed. This could become a problem if you want a higher-quality video feed using a DSLR camera.

A video capture device will solve this problem. Once you connect the device to your computer, you will be able to connect an external video device.

The device will convert the video signal of the external video device into a digital signal. Your computer will then recognize this external video device as a legit source for live streams and software.

Can I Use a Video Capture Device With a Laptop?

Elgato Cam Link Plugged Into Laptop

You can use a video capture device with a laptop.

When it comes to using a video capture device with a desktop computer, you will have to install it into the PCle slot. However, you will not need to install anything if you are using a laptop.

You can buy video capture devices that can connect through Thunderbolt, USB 2.0, and USB 3.0.

Since there are a few different connection types for video capture devices, you will need to double-check the ports on your laptop before buying a device.

How To Choose a Video Capture Device

There are a few things to keep in mind when choosing a video capture device. Let’s take a look.

Know What Signal Your Camera Supports

The first thing you need to check is what signal your camera supports. You will need to buy a video capture device that can support that signal as well.

For instance, if your camera supports 1080p, you will need a video capture device that supports 1080p.

Know How Many Cameras You Want To Use

Another important factor is how many cameras you want to connect. The answer to this question will determine what kind of device you buy.

If you are using just one camera for recording, USB video capture devices will work the best. A helpful feature of USB capture devices is that they are compatible with a variety of inputs.

Whether you need an HDMI, SDI, or DVI connection, you will be able to find a device that works.

On the other hand, you will need to pick up a PCIe capture card if you want to use more than one camera. These devices will be able to support multiple channels on one card.

Find Out What Output Connection Your Camera Supports

You will also need to find out what kind of output connection your camera supports.

Many professional and consumer cameras have an HDMI output. Your camera will most likely support HDMI digital signal.

If your camera does not have an HDMI port, you probably have an SDI output. SDI ports are also common in a lot of professional cameras.

Finally, if you have an older camera, you may be working with another kind of output connection such as s-video, composite, or balanced/unbalanced analog audio.

Once you know what kind of output connection your camera supports, you will have to find a video capture device that supports the connection.

Decide if You Want Your Device To Be Portable or Not

One last thing to consider is if you want your video capture device to be portable or not.

If you know you will be working on multiple laptops, you will need a portable device. However, if you have one main set-up that you always work from, investing in a non-portable capture device may be worth it.

If you want portability, go with a USB device. If you don’t need a portable device, go with a PCIe capture card.

Just remember that USB devices will only support one camera, while PCIe systems can support multiple sources.

How To Use a Video Capture Device

How to Use Video Capture Device

Now that you have the right capture device, it is time to hook it up. Let’s take a look at how to do this.

We will review both kinds of video capture devices, including USB capture devices and PCIe capture cards.

USB Video Capture Device

Setting up a USB video capture device is very straightforward. All you have to do is plug the camera into the video capture device, then plug the video capture device into your laptop.

After you do this, your camera will be ready to go.

PCIe Video Capture Card

Installing a PCIe video capture card will be a bit more tricky than plugging in a USB cable.

Let’s take a look.

  1. Shut your PC down.
  2. Disconnect all of the cables from the back of your desktop. Make sure to unplug the AC power, mouse, keyboard, and monitor.
  3. Take off the cover of your PC to have access to the inside of the computer. You will probably have to unscrew a few screws and slide the side panel off to do this. If you don’t know how to take the cover off, refer to the computer manual.
  4. Lay the case down on a flat surface. Make sure that the inside components are facing upwards.
  5. Find a PCI slot that is free on the motherboard. PCI slots will usually be white or beige.
  6. Unscrew the small brackets that are attached to the PC case behind the PCI slot. After this, insert the video capture card into the free slot. Make sure to check if the card is secure in the slot before the next step.
  7. Screw the capture card to the back of the computer case.
  8. Put the side panel back on and screw it in place. You can now plug in all of the cables (AC power, keyboard, mouse, etc.).
  9. Turn your computer on. The PC should detect the new card.

Things To Keep in Mind When Using a Video Capture Device

Now that you know how to install a video capture device, there are a few things to keep in mind when using the device.

What Camera To Use

When it comes to the camera you use, make sure to use a camera that will not overheat. Since you will be using your camera for a few hours at a time, it may be prone to overheating.

While webcams were built for prolonged recording, some cameras may not be designed to do so.

Overheating could lead to further problems and could damage your camera. To avoid this, keep an eye on your camera throughout the process.



You can also use additional software with the video capture device.

Popular software that streamers use are platforms such as OBS Studio. These kinds of platforms will allow you to live stream and record easily with your new setup.

Other kinds of software will enable you to edit your footage and tweak things such as exposure and ISO, for example.

If you are using third-party software, you will probably have to manually select your external video device from a drop-down menu for the program to recognize it.

On most platforms similar to OBS Studio, you will simply select “video capture device” under the “source” menu.


We hope that this guide had helped you learn more about video capture devices.

Video capture devices will allow you to use a secondary video source instead of your webcam. This means that you will be able to use a professional DSLR camera as your webcam to produce high-quality footage.

If you are only using one camera and want a more portable option, pick up a USB video capture device.

USB capture devices will also be extremely easy to use. All you have to do is plug your camera up to the device and plug the device into your computer.

However, if you need more than one camera, consider buying a PCIe video capture card. You will have to install this card onto the motherboard of your PC.

Overall, video capture devices are extremely helpful for live streamers and YouTubers. You won’t have to rely on low-quality, unprofessional-looking webcams anymore.


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